To lead us into a time of confession this morning, I want to tell a brief story. On the first day of 10th grade English class, our teacher asked us to draw a web diagram on our folders that would show her, “who we were.” In other words, the class, composed of immature, angsty, teens in high school with limited levels of self-awareness, was supposed to create a visual representation of our identities.
So, I drew a circle for the important things in life. One circle that said “son,” and a circle that said, “athlete,” and a circle that said, “lifeguard,” and so on. And, as I was creating these interwoven lines and connected circles that represented “Tom,” I distinctly remember asking myself, “where does Jesus fit?” How does identifying with Christ mesh with who I am as a person?
This morning, as we continue to celebrate the world-changing achievements of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, we are studying the fourth “Sola,” of the Reformation, Solus Christus, “Christ alone.” In framing our discussion about Christ, Pastor Kevin described the following statement as the “crescendo” of the Reformation, “Scripture alone is our highest authority, which teaches that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.”
The doctrine of “Christ alone” has eternal, incomprehensible depth, but simply put, “Solus Christus” is the understanding that we must have faith in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of our sins. It is the familiar, sweet story that God Himself came to earth as a man, and grew perfectly as the promised “Seed,” the offspring who would crush the head of the serpent. (Gen. 3:15) Consequently, though, the heel of the seed was bruised and Jesus had to die.
In doing so, Jesus became our substitute, atoning for our sins for which we could never atone. His sacrifice was deemed worthy, the righteous judgment of God was satisfied, and when Jesus rose from the grave, he displayed a victory over what was thought to be unbeatable.
It was this doctrine, In Luther’s context, to which the Pope and the Catholic Church were making additions. In fact, some Reformers called it the “Jesus plus” doctrine. For example, the believers in the false doctrine would say things like :
· “You can find life and goodness in Jesus, plus we find hope in indulgences.
· You can trust in Jesus for forgiveness, plus trust in these relics of our faith.”
· You must hear that Jesus is truth, plus hear that salvation is fond in the work our your hands.”
According to Luther, all of these could be categorized under the same false, deadly gospel that led people into destruction. It’s not Jesus plus anything, it is simply Jesus.
In fact, Luther recognized that this corruption of the Gospel was nothing new. He read that, the Apostle Paul had to confront the “Jesus plus” crowd, the Judaizers, who were preaching a false gospel throughout his ministry. In Galatians 2, Paul wrote about this group:
“Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in - who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery - to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” (Galatians 2:4-5)
Paul did not listen to the “Jesus plus” crew, even for a second. And in his commentary of Galatians, Luther concurs when he said: “I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.”
This is a stunning, simple truth to behold and to cherish, but in exhorting us this morning, we, at times, are not much different than the adherents of “Jesus plus.” We must understand that the perversion of the Gospel is alive and well because it lives in our hearts. We still want to add to Jesus alone, and specifically, we still want to make it about us.
You see, when we theoretically craft the circles of our identities, we are often unwilling to solely trust in the one the reads “follower of Jesus Christ,” and have every other element of our identities draw from there. Rather, we often want to place Jesus on the same plane as the others.
And this, our willingness to trust in the exclusivity of Christ, is what gives life to the lie of "Jesus plus." Because, truthfully, we often find our own mini-versions of salvation in whatever we add to the equation. Jesus PLUS success at work; Jesus PLUS a picturesque, expectations-meeting marriage; Jesus PLUS a life of ease and comfort.
Whatever it is, we find hope, and we try to find life, in the things that “make us who we are.” We may have Jesus, but we attempt to make additions to his status as the one true source of salvation. And predictably, rather than more freedom, we become more enslaved. We all do this, and we all will continue to do this, and we need to confess this, because as recognized by Luther, and as recognized by Paul, this is evil and should not be listened to for a second.
Jesus + Anything = Nothing
We must let go of everything at the foot of the Cross. So, this morning, my exhortation is simple, listen to the Gospel, and trust in Christ alone. Let’s pray.
Prayer of Confession
Father, we know that when your goodness and loving kindness appeared, you saved us, not because of our works done in righteousness, but according to your mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom you poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
And Father, we do not trust in this consistently, so forgive us. Forgive us for finding hope and life outside of the goodness of Jesus. Forgive us for trying to make additions to the work of your redemption and salvation. Forgive for not believing that your sacrifice was enough! Father, we have sinned against you. And we know, Father that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sin to you now.